A Wish Come Clear

Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home

On Accepting Yourself (Even if Self-Checkout Tries to Shame You)

So I was at a Walmart in Alabama, doing my best not to be a Jersey girl.

That is, I was trying not to rush and dash and move at twice the speed of other shoppers.

Every checkout line was long, so I headed to self-checkout. My pragmatic husband loves self-checkout: the efficiency! The autonomy! The lack of interaction! I would rather go to a cashier, though. I like cashiers. They’re people, which means they’re family.

Self-checkout and I … we just don’t get along. I try to be careful, but I always set off the threatening red light. Then I get flustered, because I feel like I’m … in trouble.

In trouble is the kiss of death for me. Here’s my rap sheet: A-student, team captain, president, honors graduate, and rampant perfectionist. You’d think I’d be able to handle self-checkout. But no. The harder I try, the worse it gets.

Once, I scanned a bottle of wine and the machine went off. I was paralyzed; what had I done? Am I under 21? No … Willie is 25 … ergo, I must be 27. That was the day I learned that you cannot buy alcohol in our county on Sundays.

***

This time, self-checkout is – dare I say – going well. But then the machine says: “There is an unauthorized item in the bagging area.”

“What?” I say. “There’s no unauthorized item! No wine! This isn’t even a Sunday!” My hands are on my hips; I am talking back. Then I see it: a Dora the Explorer toothpaste tube – not mine – jammed in the corner.

Exasperated, I push the tube to the floor. I try to keep scanning, but the machine sees this as an act of aggression: “Please wait for assistance.”

“I do not WANT to wait!” I exclaim aloud. I wave my hands, because I’m part Italian and I can’t not wave my hands. “I didn’t do anything wrong!” I feel injustice in the pit of my stomach. This machine is insane, and it wants me to go along with the insanity, but I refuse. I have had enough.

Flying free with Grandma

I’m not really arguing with the machine, though. I’m arguing with all the contradictory messages I’ve ever received in my life.

You’ve heard them too, I bet: be perfect, but be real. Don’t get noticed, but shine. Tell your truth, but not when it might not be well-received.

***

I cajole the machine into scanning the rest of my items … but then there’s the coupon. “Drop coupon in slot,” the machine says. I obey, but then I see a written notice that says NOT to drop coupons, because they must be approved by a cashier (!)

The red light goes off. Despite my best efforts, I’m still in trouble! The machine still doesn’t approve! I nearly cry. But instead, something remarkable happens: I smile. I laugh. All at once, I am free from the tyranny of trying too hard.

You see, I can’t win. Not with the self-checkout, not with the people-pleasing, not with any of it. And what do you do when you realize you’re playing a game you can’t win? You surrender.

This ridiculous machine has given me a beautiful gift: clarity. I see the futility of trying to earn self-acceptance. I can’t. I can’t! It’s so wonderful to fail, because now I can stop running. I can find what’s been here all along.

The clerk comes over. “Did you drop a coupon in the slot?” she says, a note of accusation in her voice.

“Yes. Yes, I did,” I say, peacefully. She’s just doing her job, after all. I don’t have to internalize her tone. I can relax and take the pressure off. I can be free. Once we resolve the matter, I carry my groceries out.

The sky above has never seemed so wide.

***

Do you struggle with self-acceptance? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Upcoming Speaking Engagements:

March 13-14: Featured Speaker at Kern Autism Society Conference, Bakersfield, CA

April 4-5: Keynote Speaker at Tennessee Adult Brothers & Sisters (TABS) Conference, Nashville, TN

April 23-24: Keynote Speaker at Arc of Illinois Conference, Lisle, IL

Stories around the Web, February 2014:

Guest post at Sarah Bessey: In Which We Fall Together at Her Feet

Leaving Normal: Weekly Column at Autism After 16

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About Caroline McGraw

I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist and recovering perfectionist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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16 Replies

  1. Marlana

    Caroline,

    This post made me laugh because I can so understand those machines. Always yelling at us about something. But also because I have been struggling with my own self-confidence, faith, beliefs, abilities etc. This past week has been one I just can not put into words…but needless to say I have been fully tested and just had to laugh reading this one because it all made perfect sense.

    Thank you!

    Marlana

    1. Marlana, what a great comment to receive! Thank you — I’m so glad someone else can relate. ;) And I hope that the week ahead holds calmer waters for you, and a lot of laughter too.

  2. Olga Jendrek

    I had someone tell me to slow down I move too fast. I don’t feel accepted for the way I am.
    So it felt good to read that you were trying not to be a Jersey girl –trying not to rush and dash and move at twice the speed of other shoppers. I thought I was the only fast person but I guess it has something to do with New Jersey. Anyway, I think it is good not to let these comments affect us and to be happy with our individual personalities. Let’s love the differences.

    1. Yes indeed, us New Jersey folks often do move at a faster pace … and it was never more apparent to me than when I moved to Alabama! There’s actually something called the pace of life index that measures how fast people walk, shop, and interact in various locations around the world. Fascinating stuff; lots of differences to love. :)

  3. carolyn bluemle

    oh thank you for this and congratulations on regaining poise
    i hate the things and while i say i hate them because they take jobs away .. i hate them because they make me feel stupid and wrong and i can’t reason with them.. the good part is i really do prefer real people even when they are in a bad mood

    1. Haha, well said, Carolyn! You described exactly how I’ve felt; glad I’m not the only one who gravitates toward real people at checkout. ;)

  4. Oh my! I have just learned the “surrender” lesson too! There is so much peace in accepting a situation and then letting go of it! You’re a much better story teller than I am though!

    1. Glad to hear we’ve been learning the ‘surrender’ lesson alongside one another, Sylvia … and I must tip my hat to you, Mom of 9! I imagine parenthood to be the Olympic Games of surrender. :) Thanks for sharing!

  5. Oh, I can SO relate to this. I, too, LOVE the autonomy of self-checkout. Except, like you, I seldom find it autonomous. Something always seems to be…wrong. Ugh. I get so frustrated.

    Except when I’m depressed. Then, this scenario would have made me cry.

    When I’m at the depressed end of my bi-polar spectrum, any interaction with a clerk is fantastic, though. There’s something about being with another person, however trivially, that I find so heartening.

    1. Yes! I agree, Cynthia — even if it’s a small interaction, it can be so heartening, especially if you’re feeling alone. Now that I work from home, I’m much more receptive to interacting with cashiers and library check-out folks — I don’t take the interactions for granted as I once did. Thanks for commenting! (Also, I love the name of your blog!)

  6. Donna

    Ha! I can so relate to that experience…I have it all the time with my computer!
    I also see the value in surrender- when I laugh, usually out loud, at the “no win” situations in life, they take their proper proportion. I have come to realize that I expected no problems or irritations, and that is totally unrealistic!! Speed bumps are the way of the world, and having a chuckle or sigh of surrender is so healthy. More to smile and laugh at!! :-)

    1. You know, in the initial draft of this post, I had a line that went something like, “This is exactly what my mother would do…” :) And that’s such a good point about expectations — Jonathan likes to remind me how they set us up for frustration, disappointment, and loss. But when we can surrender – in this case, when we can smile and laugh at ourselves – we’ve actually won. Xo

  7. Caitlin Smith

    this was so fun! I laughed out loud.

    1. Oh, thank you! I’m so glad you liked it, Caitlin. I’m smiling now too, remembering our epic BB&B run for the 6th St house! :)

  8. Have made my peace with self check out and their accusatory ways. Still generally perfer a person. A goal that takes a bit more effort is to smile at the clerk and bagger. I am surprised at how hard that can be at times. Good grief! What am I doing to those I love and even like!!!

    1. You and me both, Linda! I know the feeling – it really is tough to be present and kind when we’re tired and spent. But then, it’s also amazing how even one small, positive interaction can energize us. Thanks for sharing!